Thoughts on reading:
The Color of Compromise: The Truth About The American Church’s Complicity in Racism
A new book by Jemar Tisby
I have been following Jemar Tisby’s work for a couple of years now and have been eagerly anticipating the release of his new book The Color of Compromise, so when calls went out for advance readers, I raised my hand high.
I’ve been digesting the book slowly for a few weeks and here is what most amazes me: I have been reading and studying America’s deeply racist history for a while now, but this specific history of how the American church had a leading role in both establishing and maintaining racism was, for the most part, previously unknown to me.
I think that there is a part of my heart that felt that all true followers of Jesus during the colonial era were abolitionists. (Not true.)
And I certainly thought that all abolitionists believed in racial equality. (Also not true.)
I thought that white churches during the Civil Rights Movement were either supportive or silent, but I was surprised to discover that segregation was actually preached from the pulpit. Tisby argues that the Religious Right was initially galvanized by an effort to put forth laws and practices that would reverse the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. (It was not abortion that initially bound Fundamentalists together, but rather the move to establish tax-exempt status for private schools which provided a means of fleeing integrated schools.)
These are just a couple of examples of the many revelations that were part of reading the history of the way the American church helped build our nation on white supremacy.
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that understanding the ways that racism has evolved since slavery has repeatedly brought me to my knees in lament.
Reading that the American church and many Christian leaders have lent their overwhelming support to that evolution is a whole other level of devastating.
The History of the American Church Matters.
I read A LOT of history because I think that it’s important. The parts of our history that we don’t know or the stories we sweep under the carpet are the bits that come back to bite us. Also reading history keeps me from naively believing the many false narratives that pervade our thinking about “The Land of the Free” (where people are imprisoned at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world).
And so it follows that for a Christian, reading and knowing the history of the American church’s complicity in maintaining a racist society is the only way to begin to break the cycle of that complicity.
It’s been a long, sad slog of complicity, but Jemar Tisby graciously tells it under 300 pages, stating himself that it is “a historical survey” rather than “a comprehensive treatment.” Also, he reminds us from the very beginning that it is his love of the church that compels him to tell this truth. He is not writing from the perspective of someone who written off the church, but as someone who wants to see a better day in the American church. He maintains hope that we can still seek unity across racial and ethnic lines, that we can still see God’s kingdom come.
But first, like the people of Israel who mourned when Ezra read them the word they had forgotten and forsaken, we have some reckoning to do. We cannot gloss over the sins of the past or we will continue to allow them (and their more subtle forms) in the present.
“The Fierce Urgency of Now”
Jemar closes the book with a chapter full of practical ways to address current racial injustice in America, because when we know how hard those who have gone before us have worked to erect racial barriers, surely we will want to know how to do the work of taking them down.
Here’s a paragraph from the book that will continue to inspire and admonish me in the days ahead:
Although our eternal peace is secure, a diverse but unified body of Christ will only come through struggle in this life. A survey of the history of racism and the church shows that the story is worse than most imagine. Christianity in America has been tied to the fallacy of white supremacy for hundreds of years. European colonists brought with them the ideas of white superiority and paternalism toward darker-skinned people. On this sandy foundation, they erected a society and religion that could only survive through the subjugation of people of color. Minor repairs by the weekend-warrior racial reconcilers won’t fix a flawed foundation. The church needs the Carpenter from Nazareth to deconstruct the house that racism built and remake it into a house for all nations.
Amen to this!
I hope you’ll make a point of getting your hands on Jemar Tisby’s powerful book, The Color of Compromise. It releases on January 22, 2019, but you can pre-order it today. I also recommend following him on Twitter @JemarTisby.
PS. I’m for sure adding this book to my ongoing list of resources for growing awareness of systematic racism.